A hate crime investigation is under way in Bay St Louis after a 12-year-old girl was allegedly handed a black doll dressed in “slave like clothes” with beads wrapped around its neck in what appeared to be a noose at the Krewe of Nereids Parade on Sunday.
Waveland native and Pass Christian resident Nicole Fairconeture said that it’s a family tradition to gather together each year for a fun-filled day of catching loads of colorful beads while watching the Krewe of Nereids roll down Highway 90 in front of her uncle’s place of business, B&J Pit Stop, near the Bay-Waveland city line.
“The kids look forward to going each and every year,” Fairconeture said.
But this year took a turn for the worse and it wasn’t because of the weather-related delays, she said.
According to Fairconeture, a white man wearing a white jersey riding in the front driver’s side of a black-and-gold New Orleans Saints-themed truck float allegedly called Fairconeture’s 12-year-old daughter over to grab a special throw. She says he handed her a black doll by the purple beads tied around its neck.
Research shows the doll in the photo is referred to as a “Mammy” doll and is well-known as a racist object.
The image was created during the Jim Crow era, reflecting African-American stereotypes and portraying black women as subservient.
Fairconeture said the doll itself was disturbing enough, but the man allegedly took the incident a step further when he held the doll by the beads tied around the dolls neck and said ,“It’s you!” while staring and pointing at her daughter.
Fairconeture said her daughter was in shock and highly upset.
“She walked away from the float humiliated,” she said.
By the time the young girl was able to come to terms with what had happened and informed her mother and grandmother of the incident, the float was too far gone to identify, Fairconeture said.
“We were all just shocked,” Fairconeture said. “We weren’t quite sure what to do.”
She said they spotted an officer nearby and decided to report the incident after others parade-goers said they should. They first snapped a photograph and then handed the doll over to a Bay St Louis police officer.
Fairconeture said she was told it wasn’t the first police report to be made that day about the unexpected handout.
The young girl was so embarrassed, her mom said, she went inside the family RV they had in the parking lot and did not come back out to participate in the parade.
“This happened early on, not long after (the parade) started,” Fairconeture said. “She was looking forward to seeing one of her teachers who was riding on a float, but she couldn’t enjoy herself after something like that. None of us could.”
When the streets re-opened after the parade , Fairconeture said, her uncle immediately went to the Bay St Louis Police station to make an official report of the incident.
“It just so happens, with it being Black History month, I was teaching my daughter the empowerment of a woman,” she said. “Not just a black woman, but a woman in general. Now I just hope all that doesn’t go out the window. I hope she can stay strong.”
Fairconeture said that later Sunday night, people of all races offered support and encouragement which convinced the young lady to take a stance, instead of backing down and ignoring what had happened.
The two contacted Hancock County’s NAACP’s President Gregory Barabino and reported the matter. Barabino said a state-wide investigation has been launched.
“Our priority right now is the well-being of the young lady,” Barabino said. “We will work with anyone to assure this incident gets resolved and the appropriate ramifications are applied. Although we are committed to continue fighting against ignorance, racism and hatred, this is really an issue not for the NAACP but for my white brothers and sisters to address. We will be there to support the white community as they correct the behavior, punish the perpetrator, and apologize publicly to the black community and the innocent young girl!”
Shortly after the parade, family members took to Facebook in a post with their thoughts and the photo of the doll.
The social media post went viral, sparking support and controversy from near and far in comments. Many members of the tight-knit community were up in arms, some others disagreed and believed the claim was taken out of context.
Waveland’s Mayor Mike Smith was quick to reply when he heard the allegations. He said in a Facebook post, if the person was identified, “That person would be charged with a hate crime!”
Waveland Police Chief Mike Prendergast confirmed his department would aid the Bay P.D. in its investigation: “This kind of stuff will not be tolerated in our community,” he said.
Officials say the float has been identified, but the alleged suspect has not.
Members of the Krewe of Nereids said they were shocked to hear of the incident. They confirmed the float identified was a truck float which was not affiliated with the organization, but followed the Nereids’ parade.
In a statement released Monday, the Krewe of Nereids said, “These floats are independently owned and operated, and the riders on these floats are not members of Nereids.
“The Nereids organization does not condone or agree with this behavior and has never approved of or supported any offensive conduct in the past, nor will such offensive conduct and racially divisive acts be tolerated or excused now or at any time in the future.”
A member of the organization said the the group is looking into the claim in an effort to help find the person responsible and whether this was an isolated incident.
“Anyone with information that may assist in this inquiry is invited to share that information via the Krewe’s Facebook page,” according to the group’s statement.
“To that end, the Captain and Officers of the Krewe of Nereids would like to assure the person or persons impacted by this incident, along with all parade-goers and the communities which have supported Nereids for more than a half-century, that steps are being taken to prevent similar offensive conduct from ever occurring again, and to ensure that the responsible party or parties will no longer be allowed to parade with the Krewe of Nereids.”
The Fairconeture family said they refuse to let this ruin their spirits or their tradition of attending the Krewe of Nereids Parade.
“We plan to be in attendance next year just like every other year,” Nicole said. “This parade is also part of our history and no one can take that away.”